Slow Lane: Smokescreen for India’s socio-economic troubles


Welcome to Slow Lane, a weekly curation of important stories and analysis by Scroll editors exclusively for our members. Our incisive, independent journalism is made possible by your support. Do upgrade your Scroll Membership if you can.

Editor’s sidebar

Tradespeople sit on the side of a road as they wait to get hired for work in Mumbai in 2017. Credit: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

Voters are worried by India’s worsening unemployment, wealth inequality problem – but media doesn’t seem to be

Nachiket Deuskar

The problems of unemployment, especially among the educated youth, and wealth inequality in India have grown to worrying levels in recent years, new research has shown. But you wouldn’t get a sense of this if you’ve been watching Indian television as election season has unfolded.

A report by the International Labour Organization and the Institute for Human Development published this week said that in 2022, India’s youth accounted for almost 83% of the country’s unemployed workforce. The share of youngsters with secondary or higher education among the band of total unemployed youth  jumped from 54.2% in 2000 to 65.7% in 2022.

“Educated youth have higher rates of unemployment, reflecting a mismatch with their aspirations and available jobs,” the report said.

The United Nations agency also said that India’s labour force participation rate has consistently declined over the past two decades. This rate reflects the proportion of a country’s working-age population that engages actively in the labour market, either by working or looking for work. It fell from 61.6% at the turn of the century to 50.2% in 2019, before rising to 55.2% in 2022. However, this rate was lower than the world average of 59.8%.

The report said that the improvement in the labour force participation rate and the rate of unemployment after 2019 must be interpreted carefully because of an increase in agricultural employment in rural areas.

There is another problem that the report flagged: the rates of female labour force participation remain low. “The unemployment challenge among young women, especially those who are highly educated, is enormous,” the report cautioned.

Commenting on the report, the Centre’s Chief Economic Advisor V Anantha Nageswaran said that it is wrong to assume that the government can solve all socio-economic problems such as unemployment. “It is the commercial sector who needs to do the hiring,” he said.

Nageswaran’s comments are a “confession” that the government has failed to tackle unemployment, the Opposition said.

Meanwhile, another research paper published on March 19 highlighted that the wealth inequality in India is now more than during the British Raj. It had declined after Independence till the early 1980s, when it started rising, and has escalated rapidly since the early 2000s, researchers say.

Between financial years 2014-’15 and 2022-’23, the increase in top-end inequality in terms of wealth concentration has been “particularly pronounced”, they found.

By 2022-’23, the share of income received by the richest 1% of the population (22.6%) and share of their wealth (40.1%) were at their highest historical levels. This top 1% income share is among the highest in the world, they found. The richest Indians, roughly the top 10,000 of the 920 million adults, on an average earn 2,069 times the average Indian.

These are conservative figures, the researchers said, highlighting that the quality of economic data in India is poor and has declined recently.

Much of these findings on unemployment and wealth gap conform to what has been known for long.

India’s voters, heading into the Lok Sabha elections, also acknowledge the problems at hand.  Opinion surveys have repeatedly shown that socio-economic problems such as unemployment are some of the biggest concerns for the voters.

The India Today-CVoter Mood of the Nation survey conducted in December and January found that 71% of the respondents said that the unemployment situation in the country was either “very serious” or “somewhat serious”. Meanwhile, 52% respondents said that big businesses had benefitted most from the Narendra Modi government’s policies. In contrast, just 9% said that the policies had benefitted farmers and 8% the salaried class.

The YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey conducted in December also found that unemployment was the single-largest matter of concern. Even among the more urban and more educated Indians, unemployment (along with inflation) was the biggest concern, according to Ipsos’ global “What Worries the World” survey conducted in February and March.

However, these concerns of voters have not been reflected enough  in Indian media this election season. Largely ignoring these matters, the media this week disproportionately focused on controversies such as the one involving a message posted from Congress leader Supriya Shrinate’s social media and Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Kangana Ranaut – providing a smokescreen for India’s socio-economic problems.

As part of Scroll’s A Decade Under Modi series, Abhik Deb writes about how the Modi government fared on creating jobs and addressing the economic distress.

Here is a summary of the week’s top stories.

UN expresses concern over Kejriwal’s arrest. The United Nations said it hopes that India’s Lok Sabha elections are held in a free and fair atmosphere. The comment was made by the secretary-general’s spokesperson while responding to a media query about Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest in connection with the Delhi liquor policy case.

Dujarric’s remarks came a day after the United States reiterated that it encouraged “fair, transparent, and timely legal processes” in the case involving the Aam Aadmi Party leader.

Earlier in the week, New Delhi summoned a United States to lodge a protest about the remarks made by the US State Department on Kejriwal’s arrest. Last week, the External Affairs Ministry had also summoned the German envoy to protest Berlin’s comments on the matter.

A Delhi court has extended Kejriwal’s remand to the Enforcement Directorate till April 1. “They can keep me in custody for as long as they want,” Kejriwal told the court, claiming that the case against him was being used to “crush the Aam Aadmi Party”.

Vivek Deshpande writes about why Kejriwal’s arrest is a defining moment in Indian politics.

Abhik Deb found that in Kejriwal’s Assembly constituency, he continues to enjoy strong support from the people on the margins.

Restraining the Opposition? The Income Tax Department on Friday served a notice of Rs 1,823 crore to the Congress a day after the Delhi High Court rejected the party’s pleas challenging the tax reassessment proceedings for the financial years 2017-’18 to 2020-’21.

The notice is for assessment years 2017-’18 to 2020-’21 and includes penalty and interest.

The Congress accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of “indulging in tax terrorism” ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. “The BJP’s tactics for the polls is to financially cripple the Opposition parties, especially the Congress,” Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said.

More revelations from the electoral bonds data. Fresh electoral bond data released by the Election Commission shows that a Kotak group firm’s Rs 60 crore donation to the BJP coincided with crucial decisions by the Reserve Bank of India on the Kotak Mahindra Bank.

Meanwhile, the Bharti group’s Rs 150 crore bond donation to BJP coincided with the Modi government’s telecom U-turn.

The data also revealed that pharmaceutical companies donated Rs 945 crore through electoral bonds. Most of this amount went to political parties ruling states with pharma units. This is significant in the context that only states can take punitive action against firms for substandard drugs. Additionally, the BJP got donations even from drug firms functioning out of non-BJP states.

Read more analysis on this topic by Project Electoral Bond, a collaborative project involving Scroll, The News Minute, Newslaundry and independent journalists.

Corruption case against BJP ally dropped. The Central Bureau of Investigation, which reports to the BJP–ruled Union government, has closed a 2017 case involving Rajya Sabha MP Praful Patel regarding the alleged irregularities in leasing aircraft for Air India. This comes eight months after Patel, along with several other senior leaders, joined Ajit Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party faction that is part of Maharashtra’s ruling coalition alongside the BJP and Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena group.

Setback for the Opposition in Maharashtra? The Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi has released its list of eight candidates in Maharashtra for the Lok Sabha elections, indicating that it will not join the state’s Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance. However, the party said that it will support the Congress’ candidate for the Nagpur seat.

Ambedkar, who is the grandson of Bhimrao Ambedkar, will contest from the Akola constituency. Earlier this month, he said that he had lost faith in Uddhav Thackeray’s faction of the Shiv Sena and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party group because of their “unequal attitude” toward his party.

Also on Scroll this week

GN Saibaba interview: ‘To believe in humanity, social progress, is that extremist?’

How a Guwahati DJ was held captive by her family to stop her marriage to a Muslim man

How Bengaluru’s water crisis is rooted in the neglect of its lakes

‘Crew’ review: A sexy, funny and honest airline heist movie

IPL 2024: Record-breaking Sunrisers Hyderabad beat Mumbai Indians for first win of the season

When an emperor came calling on a newly independent India to learn from its early successes

Why Kashmir’s activists are turning to the National Green Tribunal to save its forests and wetlands

The secret ingredient of Pratik Gandhi’s success: ‘Salt to taste’

How the high demand for coaching classes reflects India’s employment and economic distress

Ladakh protest: A tale of two mountain springs and what it says about the demand for autonomy

A Decade Under Modi, a Scroll series evaluating the Union government’s record

If you haven’t already, sign up for our Daily Brief newsletter.

Write a comment ...

Become a Scroll Member and get special privileges.